Yes, underwater welding is a legit thing. It sounds so Jules Verne, doesn’t it? Yet, despite the hazards of working in soupy surroundings that have a legion of variables and safety issues to consider, there are those brave souls who weld underwater.
Did you know? An underwater welder is first and foremost a commercial diver. Diving schools teach the skills necessary to certify commercial divers as underwater welders if students want to add that skill to their training. Or, they teach those who are already welders the skills to dive commercially.
Underwater welders fix things like ships, off-shore oil rigs, pipelines, and other structures needing repairs down in the deep. There is also a type of underwater welding called hyperbaric welding (google it). It removes the water – underwater – so that weld quality is easier to manage.
I’ve heard that underwater welders make ridiculous amounts of money compared to “land welders”, but when I looked into the Bureau of Labor stats for commercial divers, this doesn’t seem to be true (see stats here). It looks as if they make around $7,000 more median pay than a traditional welder does.
Considering what is entailed, this doesn’t seem like the huge payoff the internet claims it to be. If I had to breathe through a tube and wear a diver’s helmet, while floating in water of various depths and temperatures, meanwhile trying not to get electrocuted as I’m welding in said water, you’d better bet your checkbook that my wages would be significantly higher than my peer working in the shop. But then the question of work availability comes up…underwater welding sounds like it’s probably not a regular 7am-3pm daily job. You could twiddle your thumbs in the down time or add to your skills as a commercial diver and work on other projects not related to welding. Or…you could always come over to the shop and help out on a “land project” or two and breathe regular air for free 😉.
The fact is, we need more welders (on land, on sea…anywhere you happen to be…). From 2016 to 2026, the rate of growth for welders in general is expected to grow by 6%. That means by 2026, we are looking at an additional 22,500 welders in the US to the 400,000 plus that we have now. (from the Bureau of Labor Statistics – see data here). I am guessing that the number will increase worldwide as well. My best educated guess would be that most of these welders will be the traditional welder who welds on land: in a shop , the field or at a plant, etc. Additional underwater welders will be needed to replace the retiring population of underwater welders, though, too.
Never mind that most underwater welders are young whippersnappers in their 20s or 30s. They do have to surface sooner or later and pass on what they know to the generations that follow. That and all these plans for underwater cities…the demand for underwater welding and commercial divers will just grow, right?
This is a niche in the welding market that, admittedly, I know very little about but my research into it is proving fascinating! Having been born and raised in semi-arid land-locked states (read: very few lakes or rivers), I am a dyed-in-the-wool landlubber. Don’t get me wrong – as a kid I loved swimming pools, small lakes, water parks and running through the sprinkler. And I lived near the ocean at one point – while there, I dipped a toe in a time or two & didn’t get sucked out to sea or attacked by a shark – so I’m good with the ocean. However, swimming lessons in school sapped the fun right out of swimming! Let’s just say my grades suffered there. That and a close call at a lake when I was a teenager made my love for water less as I got older. Good thing my dreams to be an Olympic swimmer were dashed early. Sorry Jules, I know you would have been proud!
Just kidding folks…I wanted to be an ice skater. When the water is solid, then let’s talk.
So, if you have an interest in welding and also a love for diving or anything underwater, you might consider looking into becoming a commercial diver who can also weld underwater. If you know of a high school or college student looking into commercial diving or welding as a career path, share this with them! Below I have links to various sites and videos that are super interesting. These aren’t exhaustive, of course, but just some stuff to peak your interest. Check them out even if you have your career set in stone – it’s enlightening and makes one appreciate commercial divers so much!
Some schools that teach underwater welding in the US:
Other links about underwater welding:
https://www.wikihow.com/Become-an-Underwater-Welder – Wikihow illustrated steps to becoming an underwater welder.
https://youtu.be/5dDu9wCjyRk – a sobering MSHA-esque video about ‘Delta P’ and why commercial diving can be so dangerous
https://youtu.be/_8fKQxNUW-w – podcast on underwater welding with Nate Martin (who happens to work with the company below)
http://www.phnx-international.com/phnx/ – company out of Maryland that offers many underwater services, including welding
https://youtu.be/H0r1bPOmil0 – Video of some cool underwater structures (that I presume needed welding at one point, or will need welding in the future 😉)